The East End's most buzzed-about art enclave, BOX 13 ArtSpace, is unveiling its summer lineup tonight. It's a blockbuster on Harrisburg Blvd., encompassing five new exhibitions.
Signifying the show's summer appeal is the splashy sidewalk window exhibition, Moveable Garden by Valerie Powell. With the aid of pins and magnets, shrinkable plastic flowers rendered in vivid colors invite viewers to touch and rearrange the exhibition. A fitting contribution to the colorful milieu of East End street life, Powell's exhibition asserts Box 13's fringe attitude by asking to be touched.
In the front downstairs gallery, Dawn Chatoney has cast typically soft objects such as pillows and life vests into fired clay for her exhibition, Objects of Nostalgia.
"I started with this whole idea of the illusion of comfort," Chatoney explains.
The inspiration of utilizing children's life vests first appeared in a dream, and when she stumbled upon the actual object in a store the following day, she launched the series, which she refers to as a "militia of life vests."
There's no vinyl or nylon, however — to conceive the resemblances of life vests, Chatoney created a mold, cast the life vests in clay, glazed the objects, and to create their distinctive warped effect, subjected them to multiple firings. The result is a march of life vests entitled "Inventory of Preservation."
Like lemmings, the clumsy forms file from platform to platform, until landing on the gallery floor.
"Each one is a preserved snapshot of motion frozen in time," Chatoney says, "almost like mimes."
The artist completed an MFA in ceramics at Stephen F. Austin State University a mere two months ago, but her approach to materiality and the exhibition's emotional pull is more aligned to the oeuvre of Joseph Beuys than an aspiring sculptor. The quiet anxiety expressed by the life jackets and accompanying cast-pillows point to Chatoney's Louisiana background, in which the uneasy fear of a life-threatening deluge is perpetually looming.
Jason Urban's "sculptural printworks" constitute the remainder of the downstairs hall with the exhibition, Moving the Horizontal Line. The star piece is a neat pile of collapsable cardboard file boxes, upon which a romantic vision of an arctic landscape has been superimposed.
"I'm really interested in the interaction of the two-dimensional and three-dimensional as we experience images," Urban explains. "The idea was to make a pile of images as opposed to a straight forward image, as if it were more of an object."
While the work of Powell, Chatoney and Urban claim defined spaces at BOX 13, Matthew Glover subverts all boundaries and hides his knitted miniature ninjas in unexpected crevices around the art space.
"Most of them are interacting with each other," Glover says of the three-inch-high figurines. "Sometimes it's a battle, and sometimes they're just kind of hanging out — just like normal life, but depicted via three-inch-high ninjas."
Through their unusual dispersal, the ninjas force viewers to explore the unexpected niches of the repurposed building and wander the onsite studios, which will be open during the exhibitions' opening today.
The vast majority of the ninjas are hidden. "Ninjas are sneaky like that," Glover says.
In the upstairs exhibition, Something to Put Something On, curator Emily Sloan has woven together the work of three artists who share an interest in an artwork's physicality by superimposing images upon sculpture. For Sloan and her chosen artists, there is no hierarchy between the "something" and the "something it is on."
In the work of Isaac Powell, drawers function as the underlying medium. It is through this technique that he addresses the challenges of being handicapped with visual problem solving, as manifest in the finely rendered paintings on forms with shelves, sleeves and propped pieces.
Lufkin-based artist Russ Havard is represented by galleries in New York and Los Angeles, but his work rarely appears in Houston venues. For this exhibition, he has contributed delicate landscapes on intimate, curved forms. The contemplative composition — both of the smooth sculptural massses and the depicted forested images — reflect his reaction to diagnosis of an auto-immune illness.
Whereas Isaac Powell and Russ Havards' work approaches what's on the object first, Martha Clippinger is more interested in bringing her found objects into focus and making them into experiences unto themselves. Because of their "found object" credential, one or two works feel unfinished (a cut-up egg carton, for instance), but the Brooklyn-based artist synchs with her counterparts in Something to Put Something On with a pop appeal that could make the show feel desolate if her work were not present.
Whether or not intentional, the notion of an artwork's physicality connects all five of the new exhibitions at BOX 13. On both stories and along the display case, something is almost always "on" something else, from Valerie Powell's plastic blossoms and Chatoney's conglomerations of pillows and life vests, to Jason Urban and Russ Havards' 3-D visions of forests. At BOX 13, the art of affixing has reached its zenith.
The five exhibitions open at BOX 13 Artspace on Saturday with a 7-9:30 p.m. reception. The shows continue through August 19.